Team building activities get a bad rap. While the intention behind such exercises is to break the ice, they are often seen as embarrassing and awkward.
Leaders are so enthusiastic when conducting these games that they don’t even notice workers looking for the nearest exit.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t conduct team-building exercises. Building collaboration skills in your team is essential, and team-building games can really help you achieve that.
The problem usually lies with the team-building activities managers pick. A quick search for team-building ideas will show you that the web is filled with hundreds of them. But many are unfeasible, difficult, or uncomfortable for workers. They look good on paper but you can’t really implement them in an actual workplace.
So in this post, we are going to solve this problem. Instead of giving you a huge directory of endless activities, we’ve handpicked a few team-building activities that are easy, effective, and enjoyable.
Types of team building activities
Some team-building ideas are more suited for your company than others. Your choices will depend on several factors, such as team size and function.
But you also need to consider where you’re going to conduct the team-building exercises and how the location impacts the mindset of your team members. Based on the location of the team-building games, they can be split into three main categories.
Indoor team building activities
Indoor games take place in the office or another work location. And you’ll likely conduct them during regular work hours. For this reason, indoor activities have a serious, formal overall vibe. If your whole team works from a single location, then choosing indoor team-building exercises is your best bet.
Outdoor team building activities
At a team retreat, you need team-building games that can be played outdoors. Plus, the overall mood is more relaxed and casual than indoor exercises. So the team-building activities you pick should be more fun and energetic.
Virtual/online team building activities
More and more people are working remotely, and many teams are spread out in different locations these days. If that applies to your team too, you need remote team-building activities that can be conducted via web conferencing.
The good news is we’ve covered all the three types in the list below. In fact, some of our team-building ideas belong to multiple categories. For example, you’ll also find exercises that can be run indoors as well as online.
For each team-building activity, we’ve also mentioned its best-suited environments. So without further ado, let’s jump in.
Quick and easy team building activities
- Suitable environments: indoor, online, outdoor
- Number of team members: 5-25
- Objective: Foster informal communication by encouraging team members to share and identify common experiences
This is one of the evergreen team-building activities. It improves team bonding via inspired storytelling. Team members gather in a circle, as people do in a fireside chat when camping. They share workplace experiences, get to know each other better, and refresh memories.
What makes it great: Storytelling is a time-tested way to pass information informally and shape communities. So a storytelling session with work-related stories can get your team members to loosen up, learn some useful lessons, and feel closer to one another. You can also confine the stories to train people around a certain theme.
How it works: Come up with a list of words that can trigger your employees’ memories and remind them of a previous experience. For example, these could be “demo day,” "on-site trip," "side project,” and so on.
Find a way to display all the words to your team members. If you are conducting the activity indoors, for example, you can use a whiteboard.
Have team members take turns to pick a trigger word and share an experience related to it. Once a trigger word has been taken by a participant, move it to a separate area so it can’t be repeated.
You can also ask workers to share more trigger words that come to mind after they have heard a story. So you won’t run out of ideas for stories.
- Suitable environments: indoor, outdoor
- Number of team members: 10-25
- Objective: Improve delegation skills, communication, and teamwork among participants
This team-building exercise involves drawing an object with just spoken instructions. You can use this team-building exercise as a fun, light activity between two intense sessions.
What makes it great: It looks simple on the surface. But to win this team-building game, team members will have to get many things right. For example, they’ll have to pick the right person to draw, and to give instructions. Plus, they’ll need to communicate well. So the activity teaches them both delegation and collaboration.
How it works: Gather some everyday objects, signs, or shapes. You can print them on sheets of paper, or search for photos on a free stock photography website.
Divide employees into teams of five people. Have each team choose the “artist” who will draw the shape. Assign a different object to each team and give them a time limit of 3-5 minutes.
Each team will then guide the artist on drawing the object. But they can’t say the name of the object. While the artist is drawing, he couldn’t know what the object is, nor can his team know what he is drawing until he’s done. The team with the drawing most similar to their object wins.
You know who
- Suitable environments: indoor, online
- Number of participants: 10-50
- Objective: Introduce team members to one another and establish connections
In this team-building game, employees will map the connections between one another on a whiteboard. Teams can choose their “avatars”, and then draw arrows to map how they are connected to other workers. It’s a great way to break the ice when team members don’t know each other well.
What makes it great: This team-building activity lets you build a small, social-media-style network, but without the technology. It will not just help as a standalone activity, but also allow team members to keep mingling throughout the whole day or event.
How it works: Provide participants with index cards, markers, and tape. Each worker will then write their name, add their job title, and draw an "avatar" on their index card, like how there’s a profile photo on a social network.
Then gather all the index cards and stick them on a whiteboard, with plenty of space between every two cards. Participants will then draw arrows from their card to others who they already know in some capacity.
Plus, they’ll also mention how they know the person. For example, maybe they went to the same university or were part of the same team in the past.
- Suitable environments: indoor
- Number of team members: 10-20
- Objective: Build cross-functional collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills
This team-building activity divides a group of employees into two teams, both of which are asked to solve a jigsaw puzzle in the time limit specified.
But there’s a twist. Some of the pieces required by each team belong to the other team. So both the teams need to work together.
What makes it great: This is a great exercise in improvisation, problem-solving, and collaboration. When the teams start putting the pieces together, they don’t know about the catch. They are surprised by the realization that their success depends on working with the other team, and this lesson remains with them for a long time.
How it works: Simple! Take two puzzles. Replace some pieces in one puzzle with those of the other. Make two teams and give them the puzzles to solve. Ask them to keep communicating with each other while they’re on the task. But don’t tell them that you have interchanged some pieces. Let them figure it out on their own. Also, declare another rule that teams can exchange only one puzzle piece at a time.
- Suitable environments: indoor, outdoor
- Number of team members: 5-30
- Objective: Inspire participants to solve problems together, demonstrate leadership, and practice negotiation.
Imagine your plane has crashed on an island in the middle of nowhere, and it’s burning. There are only a few minutes to salvage some items from the wreckage. What will you take and what will you leave? That’s what this team-building exercise is about.
What makes it great: This team-building game is great for giving your team a taste of a high-stress situation, and honing their ability to work together under pressure. Their success will depend on negotiating calmly, picking a leader, and planning the whole thing carefully.
How it works: Set up a space with several survival items such as various foods, water, knives, weapons, flares, tarp, matches, and so on. You don't even need to have the actual items. You can use their pictures too.
The quantity of each item should be limited so teams will be forced to trade and collaborate. Divide employees into two or more teams. And they have 30 minutes to rank what they need the most and get survival items from the space.
- Suitable environments: indoor, online
- Number of team members: 2-8
- Objective: Build rapport and improve team communication
Countless professionals across the globe start their work with daily standup meetings and coffee. So there’s no reason you can’t combine the two. This team-building activity involves daily standups that can be conducted indoors or online. Participants talk about what’s on their to-do list for the day while enjoying a nice, hot beverage.
What makes it great: This team-building exercise is best-suited for remote teams in which workers don’t get to see their team members on a daily basis. Having a light chat while doing something casual can help build camaraderie, improve communication, and know what everyone’s doing.
How it works: Ask workers to grab a cup of coffee from the cafeteria, a coffee shop, or make one at home. Then all the employees in the team join a stand-up chat for 10-15 minutes. Each team member talks about what they intend to do, and if there’s anything they need help with.
Shark tank mania
- Suitable environments: indoor, online
- Number of team members: Up to 30, split into teams of five
- Objective: Encourage innovation, collaboration, and skills to sell your ideas
This activity is inspired by the popular TV series — Shark Tank. In this team-building game, participants create a product pitch for investors. The product and the investors both don’t need to be real. Your team will just create a mock version of the show.
What makes it great: Getting your team members to participate in their own version of Shark Tank goes a long way to instill entrepreneurship, innovation, and the ability to think big. Since there can be multiple cofounders and others behind a startup, this activity also promotes teamwork.
How it works: Divide employees into teams of 3-5 people, and ask each team to prepare their pitch for an imaginary product. The pitch could include product name, brand tagline, marketing plan, financial projections, and so on.
Choose some people to be the investors with an imaginary pool of money. You can also give them fake backgrounds. Every team will then present their pitch to these “Sharks.” The team that gets the most funding wins.
Over to you: team building activities to engage your workforce
Running an organization is not easy. It’s hard to get hundreds of workers on the same page, let alone get them to take collective action towards business goals.
Hard, but not impossible. With the right collaboration strategies and team-building activities, you can build an atmosphere of camaraderie and open communication at work. Plus, these exercises also teach your team valuable soft skills such as leadership, negotiation, and problem-solving.
They might take some time and effort to execute in the beginning, but the results will convince you to keep going. So start putting them into practice and reap the benefits of improved culture and collaboration at your workplace.